College Hoops Thursday: Your Commentary

November 24th, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving! And while football tends to take center stage on this day there are also four in-season tournaments playing games, with action spreading from the Bahamas to Alaska. There really isn't a marquee matchup so to speak but there are games that could become important once March arrives, with New Mexico's game against Santa Clara in the 76 Classic being one. The Lobos were the preseason pick to win the Mountain West, and with players such as Drew Gordon and Kendall Williams there's no doubt that they can win this event. But in the Broncos of Santa Clara they'll take on a team that was a trendy sleeper pick in the WCC, and even with Marc Trasolini lost for the year with a knee injury they can still be a factor in the race. 

Guard Kevin Foster is one of the top perimeter scorers on the west coast, as he scored 20 points or more in 16 games (30+ in three games) last season. The junior's shooting percentages are down through three games, but there's no doubt that Foster can turn it on in a hurry for Kerry Keating. Foster leads four Broncos in double figures, but just as important as Foster are forwards Niyi Harrison and John McArthur. Those two have had to step up in the aftermath of Trasolini's injury and they've done a solid job to start the year. But a lot more will be learned about both as they take on Gordon, who's scoring a shade under ten points per game while grabbing ten rebounds per contest.

Gordon may be the Lobo most likely choice to win Mountain West Player of the Year, Steve Alford's got a number of perimeter options from which to choose. Kendall Williams, Tony Snell and Demetrius Walker are three of New Mexico's top four scorers and freshman Hugh Greenwood may be ready to take over the starting point guard job as the Lobos look to make up for the graduation of Dairese Gary. UNM shoots 38% from beyond the arc and their effective field goal percentage of 53.2% is better than Santa Clara's by nearly five percentage points. The outcome will boil down to which team does a better job of generating quality looks, and that was a serious problem for Santa Clara in their blowout loss at UCSB. 

Which game should you keep an eye on in the Battle of Atlantis in the Bahamas? Likely the first game of the day as College of Charleston takes on UCF, with the Knights needing to pick up a quality win in light of their 23-point loss to Florida State in their second game of the season. But that's easier said than done against Bobby Cremins' team, which is coming off of a good win at Clemson. Antwaine Wiggins and Andrew Lawrence have led the way for the Cougars, and their offensive execution looks to be the difference on paper (efficiency of 110.4 while UCF is down at 98.1).

In Orlando the Fairfield Stags have a game that, thanks to the current NCAA Clearinghouse issues for freshman guard Jahii Carson, has gone from "opportunity to pick up a decent win against a BCS AQ opponent" to "lose and essentially flush any at-large hopes down the drain". Sydney Johnson's team has already dropped games to Providence (home) and at Minnesota, and an early trip to the consolation bracket would be the worst possible outcome for the defending MAAC regular season champions.

And at the Great Alaska Shootout there's the chance to check out New Mexico State as either the food-induced coma wears off or die-hard shoppers fight off sleep in the quest to show up early for the "Black Friday" specials. The Aggies, who already have a win at New Mexico to their credit, are led by guards Christian Kabongo and Hernst LaRoche and forward Wendall McKines, with McKines averaging 18.0 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. Central Michigan has sophomore guards Trey Zeigler and Derek Jackson, but for the Chippewas to have a shot at the upset they'll need to exercise good shot selection.  

Top 25 Games
7:00 PM UNC Asheville vs. (4) Connecticut* (HDNet)
4:30 PM Massachusetts vs. (20) Florida State* (Versus)

NCAA Division I Games
12:00 PM Texas Tech vs. Indiana State* (ESPN2)
2:00 PM Boston College vs. Saint Louis* (ESPNU)
2:00 PM Charleston vs. UCF* (Versus)
2:30 PM Minnesota vs. DePaul* (ESPN2)
4:30 PM Villanova vs. UC Riverside* (ESPNU)
7:00 PM Dayton vs. Wake Forest* (ESPN2)
9:00 PM New Mexico vs. Santa Clara* (ESPNU)
9:30 PM Harvard vs. Utah* (HDNet)
9:30 PM Arizona State vs. Fairfield* (ESPN2)
10:30 PM Central Michigan vs. New Mexico State* (FCS)
11:30 PM Oklahoma vs. Washington State* (ESPN2)
12:30 AM UC Irvine vs. Southern Miss* (FCS)